Change U.S. policy on Futenma by sending out information directly from Okinawa

May 13, 2011 by Michiyo Yonamine of Ryukyu Shimpo

Three U.S. senators, including Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have called for the Pentagon to abandon plans to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma facilities to the Henoko district of Nago, rejecting them as “unrealistic,” and “impractical.” These remarks reflect the great change in the circumstances in the United States in recent years, with growing public demand to cut defense spending because of huge fiscal deficits. Global U.S. strategy and deployment of its military needs to be reviewed now that progress seems to be made in the Middle East in the “War on Terror.”
In addition to the situation affecting the United States, Japan has been struck by a disaster of truly significant proportions and persistent objection to the relocation of the Futenma facilities to Henoko is unabated in Okinawa. With all this in mind, the three senators concluded that it is “unreasonable” to persist with the bilateral agreement between the United States and Japan.

They recommended to the Defense Department that the Futenma facilities and functions could be integrated into Kadena Air Base. This alternative to the current plan may reduce relocation costs and be feasible if Diet members from Okinawa lead the way in promoting it.

Since last year, there have been increasingly strong calls that plans should be reviewed as part of the government’s fiscal reconstruction of U.S. forces overseas, with the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee even going as far as arguing that the U.S. Marine Corps presence on Okinawa was unnecessary. Non-partisan members and some leading think tanks also advocate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from overseas bases. In a special feature article, TIME Magazine looked at the matter of whether or not the United States really needs more than 500 military bases at home and overseas, with experts on foreign affairs suggesting that after a deployment lasting 66 years, the U.S. Marines should now be withdrawn from Okinawa.

In this context, the recent killing of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces will be seen as an additional factor in heating up the controversy surrounding the withdrawal of the armed forces deployed overseas. The death the U.S. government’s most wanted man takes the “War on Terror,” that triggered the doubling of defense spending, to a new stage. Any termination of hostilities will lead to a decrease in military spending and the reduction of troop numbers. The statement by Levin and other senators is set against this changing situation in the political background in Washington, D.C.

In response, Japanese government officials act as though nothing has happened, saying that these are the remarks of some members of Congress, not by the U.S. government itself. Be that as it may, these remarks should not be taken lightly. Levin is the extremely capable chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that managed to reduce cost of the military relocation to Guam from Okinawa by 70%. McCain is a leading senior Republican and a former presidential candidate in 2008. Webb is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee. These gentlemen have far more influence on their government than would be the case in Tokyo.

While some elements of the American news media do report the feelings of the Okinawan people about the Futenma relocation issue, there has been no news coverage whatsoever of the reaction triggered by the mention of the possible integration the facilities at Futenma into those at Kadena base. As has previously been the case, this may lead the American public to make mistaken assumptions. We therefore need to convey our strong opposition to any plan that involves the integration of the facilities and functions of Futenma into those of Kadena, and to clearly indicate why this option is “unrealistic.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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